OG Woodgrain Atari 2600
Atari 2600 JR. (Original)
Atari 2600 Darth Vader version
2600 Jr. Black
2600 Jr. White
pics courtesy of Atariage.com
THE RANT: What more needs to be said? Everyone out there already knows all there is about this machine. So here is some advice for the beginning collector (like me.) There is a ton of 2600 crap out there, but the problem is, most of it IS crap. You'll be able to go on Ebay and put together a decent 2600 collection quite easily, then after you've got all the common stuff you'll notice very strange things: a single cart with no box or instructions selling for over $100, listing upon listing for "lots" of games (problem is, they're all the same ones,) tons upon tons of Atari paraphernalia you've never heard of, etc. You'll find boxes full of Pac-Man or Pitfall carts for a dollar a piece, then some shop selling an unmarked cartridge for $70. It seems to make no sense. Collecting for this system is like the video game equivalent of an out of body experience. There's like 15000 games that were made for this system, or some other such ridiculous number, half of those games are clones of Pac-Man or Asteroids, the other half are weird, strange, and sometimes totally bizarre. There are some cool gems that made this system great, and it's gained an immense following over the years. Lots of cool ideas got their start on this system. Also there is something to be said about knowing where your roots are. Like one time I was in the mall watching a 12 year old kid play Zelda: Wind Waker on the Gamecube. I was totally blown away by the near-movie quality graphics. The kid said, "Yeah, it's cool." I was like "Kid, you don't know what games were like back in the day. You were lucky if your guy had different color pants than the rest of his body. Half the time all you could do was jump, even if the controller had more than one button. A game with four screens was long, three bad guys on the screen that didn't flicker was amazing, and you had to make the music up yourself as you went along." The kid did not seem impressed.
The Good: More games than you will ever have time to play ever in your entire life. PAL games are mostly playable on NTSC systems and vice-versa, as mostly the screwy colors don't distract from gameplay, else half the time the system is too primitive to notice the difference. Some people actually still make games for this system (like Hoser video, who will put your homebrew game on a cart for $20.) Tons upon tons of funky and weird controllers, devices, and merchandise to keep you busy forever. Some of the games are just plain fun, (such as Combat, when mixed with alcohol becomes the ultimate drinking game.) Also brings back the nostalgia factor. Lots and lots of pirate and unlicensed stuff also. Every collector should have one of these, if only to compare all the new stuff to.
The Bad: Most of the games suck, or are clones of games you've already got, or just make no sense without instructions, which is the way you usually find games for this system. A lot of the time the point of the game is too hard to figure out, rendering it unplayable. Example: The A Team. You appear to be a giant Mr. T head which spits watermelon seeds (although I assume that's supposed to be machine gun fire,) which floats back and forth on a rainbow shooting at those little byte things from Tron. Then something happens and it switches to another screen, and what I guess is supposed to be a bad guy chases you around, except your shots do nothing to him, then he gets you and it's game over. After playing this for ten minutes I was still totally lost on what the hell I was supposed to do. Another thing is that even the good games just don't have the depth we've come to expect from more modern games. How many variations of Pac-man can you play before it just gets boring?
The Ugly: Bottom line is: games and systems are cheap, but you get what you pay for. Yeah the cart cost you 50 cents at a pawn shop, but you get 50 cents worth of game play. The occasional gem does redeem the system but those raised with music in thier games or sprites that actually resemble what they're supposed to may not be impressed.
There are seemingly hundreds and hundreds of clones of this system. Here are some of the more interesting ones: